The Bel Canto Chamber Singers was founded in 1977 in the kitchen of Katharine DeBoer, a soprano living in West Hartford, VT. Over many cups of coffee, DeBoer brainstormed with Beverly Gaylord, a dear friend and noted local pianist, about forming a small ensemble of auditioned singers to perform a varied repertoire of fine choral music. In contrast to a large oratorio choir, they both felt a need in the Upper Valley for a challenging, more intimate, choral ensemble.
A young choral conductor, Jane Graham, arrived in the Upper Valley, and became the first conductor of the new group. Gaylord was hired as the accompanist. Auditions were held at the Frederick Johnson Piano Company in White River Junction, and the first concert, featuring 19 experienced singers, was held at Rollins Chapel on Dartmouth’s campus on December 11, 1977.
After Graham left the Upper Valley in 1979, Bel Canto boasted several outstanding conductors who maintained a consistently high level of performance over the years. In the fall of 1987 DeBoer herself took up the baton during the search for a new conductor and remained with the chorus through 1989 when she left the Upper Valley. While many conductors have led Bel Canto (see below), Gaylord continued as accompanist for 27 years before retiring in 2004.
The COVID pandemic had a particularly big impact on choral singing. In-person rehearsals and performances were discontinued in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The group continued to work together September 2020 - May 2021 with rehearsals on Zoom. As many other musical groups did, members of Bel Canto rose to the challenge of each one recording a single part, and a recording was compiled, combining all the voices into one “choral ensemble” recording. Staff and members worked many extra hours behind the scenes to make this possible. It was a consensus that, though demanding, this experience enhanced the group’s musicality and camaraderie. The group was able to return to in-person rehearsals Fall 2021.
Bel Canto Chamber Singers is currently based in Lebanon, New Hampshire, rehearsing and performing at the First Congregational Church in Lebanon, continuing to draw experienced singers and appreciative audiences from across the Upper Valley and beyond. Under the direction of Jane Woods, who directed Bel Canto from 1990-1997 and returned to the podium in 2014, and pianist Jeanne Chambers, Bel Canto looks to the future with continued dedication to excellence in choral singing through commitment to the highest standards of repertoire and performance.
Conductors 1977-1979 – Jane Graham 1979-1982 – Donald Cox 1982-1987 – Louis Burkot Fall 1987 – Katharine DeBoer 1988-1989 – J. Scott Ferguson 1989-1990 – Helen Westerfield 1990-1997 – Jane Woods 1997-1999 – Charles Houmard 1999-2001 – Nancy Hayden 2001-2006 – Christopher Creeger 2006-2014 – Hal Sheeler 2014-Present – Jane Woods
Accompanists 1977-2004 – Beverly Gaylord 2004-2011 – Matthew Wiencke 2011-2018 – Pierre Fournier 2019-Present – Jeanne Chambers